Tucked at the far end of Honda Plaza, just past the lengthy line at Sushi Gen, Pasta e Pasta is the first Los Angeles location from a company that operates more than a dozen, mostly Italian-focused restaurants in Japan serving a cuisine known as wafu.
On the menu you’ll find a variety of familiar Italian pasta dishes, from a fiery arrabiata to a hearty beef ragu, such as you’d find in a typical osteria. There’s a jet-black squid ink pasta and a rich carbonara, each plate heaped generously and served with a side salad and bread. And if you’re really hungry, you’ll likely want to start with the antipasti, including caponata, fresh mozzarella and prosciutto. There’s a selection of Italian wines and American craft beers, as well as Asahi on draft.
Where Pasta e Pasta does seem to take a more obvious detour from Italy is with a few Japanese-inspired pasta dishes on the menu. The dishes borrow from the wafu style of pasta that’s popular in Japan, where typical Japanese ingredients are incorporated into the sauce. There’s the “mentai Japanese cream,” made with cod roe and five varieties of mushrooms, topped with slivers of nori and green onion, and the “Japanese peperoncino,” prepared with baby sardines, tomatoes, garlic oil and soy sauce. You’ll also find an uni pasta made with fresh sea urchin, anchovies, tomato, garlic and a cream sauce. The uni udon of nearby Marugame Monzo springs to mind, as does the sea urchin–studded spaghetti rustichella of Bestia, the perennially busy Italian favorite barely a stone’s throw away in the Arts District. The line between what’s more Japanese or what’s more Italian on the menu is further blurred when you remember that preserved fish roe (aka bottarga) and sardines have been key ingredients in Italy for centuries.
One potential difference: The saucing strategy at Pasta e Pasta is quite heavy-handed, which would be frowned upon in very traditional Italian restaurants.
Pasta e Pasta is not the company’s first foray into the United States, but it's certainly the first Italian-centric effort. In 2014, the company opened Jinbei, a sushi and izakaya spot in Irvine, where you will find the uni spaghetti but otherwise no Italian influences. The company’s founder, Hidenori Hayashi, opened his first restaurant, a small Italian-focused eatery, in Amagasaki, Japan, in 2004. Riding on the popularity of pizza and pasta in Japan, Hayashi went on to open more Italian restaurants, with the occasional Japanese concept thrown in for good measure, and maintained a steady pace of a new restaurant every year for the following decade. As a pastry chef he was obsessed with the challenge of perfecting Neapolitan pizza dough, and in 2011 came in sixth in the Caputo Cup, the international pizza competition held in Naples.
Many of his restaurants in Japan focus on a particular area of Italian cuisine. So you’ll find one shop serving up seafood and white wine, while another features only Italian-style desserts, and the next pizza or pasta.
Down the road the company may open another stateside location with a larger menu that expands beyond pasta and a few antipasti selections, but for now Pasta e Pasta manager Masaki Tsuzuki says they wish to keep the menu streamlined. The restaurant may eventually add more wine options and maybe a few daily specials to the terse menu at Pasta e Pasta, but Tsuzuki says you won’t see any more Japanese-inspired dishes added.
432 2nd St., Downtown. (213) 265-7003, facebook.com/pastaepasta.
Advertising disclosure: We may receive compensation for some of the links in our stories. Thank you for supporting LA Weekly and our advertisers.